"The road less travelled by"
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 13/03/19

In ‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’ the author Nick Dear tells the story of the life of the poet Edward Thomas (Douglas Powrie), by imagining key incidents in his relationships with his wife Helen (Gemma Langford), and the poets Robert Frost (Morgan Edwards), and Eleanor Farjeon (Maili Lavin-Bailey). Much of the action is set deep in the Hampshire countryside at the outbreak of the First World War. Edward has moved there with his wife and children, having rejected a civil service post only 3 weeks in, much to chagrin of his father. Free of restraints of an ‘office job’, he is able to commune with nature on long rambles, and is free to write, but scrapes only a meagre living by reviewing books. At once we are presented with essential paradox of Thomas’s character: sufficiently single minded to exclusively pursue the career of ‘writer’, yet in nearly every other aspect of his life wracked by self-doubt and indecision.

It is against this background that Edward’s friendship with the American poet Robert Frost burgeons. In fact, when they first meet, Edward has published little, and hasn’t so far written any poetry. Yet Frost senses a kindred spirit with a feel for words, and with his encouragement and help, Thomas begins to write verse, and achieves his first publications. Indeed, Frost realises that unbeknown to himself, Thomas has already been “writing poems but in prose form”, so he doesn’t quite begin from nowhere, at age 36. Although not explored in detail, Frost’s most famous poem ‘Road Not Taken’ could almost be taken as metaphor for Edward’s vacillation – indeed it has been suggested that it was written somewhat in jest, yet is what gave rise to Edward, for once, making a decisive, yet fateful, step.

The cast was completed by Robert Talbot as Edward’s father, Josh Holden as the Major, and Andrew Randall as the gamekeeper; with direction from Sarah Doyle. Although far from being an expert on the period, the costumes (Kate Smalley and team) seemed to me spot on. A simple yet effective set (Mark Roberts, Sarah Farrell) was complemented by the lighting of Patrick Sandiford and Freed Isaac-Dixon. The production was enhanced by nature sounds (Mark Roberts) and thoughtfully chosen music which played during the interval (including George Butterworth and Vaughan Williams), and a small display of photographs and poems by the three main authors in the coffee lounge.

I thought the play was probably too long, but nevertheless offered a fascinating insight into the motivations and doubts of the four main characters. The greatest tribute I can pay to the writing is that I came away from the experience wanting to know more, and with a determination to read the poetry, source material, and contemporaneous accounts by the key players, to which Nick Dear undoubtedly referred. It is also to his credit that he manages to reveal much important background information in an unforced manner. The greatest tribute I can pay to the actors is that they presented the somewhat complex ideas which motivated the characters with a clarity and realism which would have been difficult to imagine bettered on a professional stage. The play continues until Saturday 16th March.

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